Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer met on the Web, which is very appropriate considering what they do: Their business teaches organizations how to reach out to their members through the Internet.
Three years ago, Lindy was employed by a small marketing agency that worked with trade associations and other organizations. "We were always sort of batting around the idea of using the social Web. Yet we were still doing tons and tons of direct mail, and it bothered me," says Lindy, 33. "So I started blogging."
Meanwhile, Maddie was the chief operating officer for a small professional organization of psychologists and was trying to get her members communicating on the Web. So she started blogging about association social networking as well. "It just seemed like a whole world of possibilities," says Maddie, 37.
The trade association blogosphere was small, so Maddie and Lindy found each other online and met in person at conferences of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). It was at one of those conferences that the two women were approached by a vendor who built social networks for associations but couldn't get the groups to use them.
"This was a theme I had heard from several other vendors, too, and we knew that was a need we could easily fulfill," says Maddie, who lives in Petworth with her husband, a manager for a technology company, and their two children.
Last June, the two decided to strike out on their own. With the next ASAE convention two months away, the partners built their Web site, incorporated, picked a name, got business cards and tried to figure out how to market themselves as fun yet serious and smart. They named the company Social-Fish because "When you think about fish and the way they school ... ," says Lindy, "it just seemed to work," finishes Maddie.
SocialFish helps organizations learn how to use social networks created by vendors or take advantage of existing social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with their members. It also helps get association members invested in social networking and offers assistance in setting up blogs and linking them to other blogs that are discussing the same issues.
"It's very creative, and it's changing so fast, and there's constantly more to learn, which is really energizing for us," says Lindy, who describes Maddie as the "social guru"; Maddie calls Lindy the "marketing genius."
For them, launching a business during a recession worked out. "The timing was absolutely perfect," Maddie says. "The economy tanked, so all of a sudden associations were worried that members were going to stop paying their dues. So we were trying to find ways to save money for them, but also ways to keep their members involved and engaged." Social networking fits the bill because it is generally less expensive than sending out lots of regular mail.
Since they work out of Lindy's home in Logan Circle, they had few start-up costs and were able to put all the money that came in back into the business. In January, they started paying themselves salaries of $70,000 a year each.
The partners, who are writing a book and hope to someday be able to afford office space, value their independence. "It just feels great to be really, really good at something that is very purely our intellectual property; we're coming up with new ideas all the time," Maddie says. "We kind of have to really stay on our game and stay ahead of the curve."